In this episode, the editors discuss a 1946 article arguing that the Soviet Union would no longer be America’s ally, a podcast about C.S. Lewis and patriotism, and next week’s International Religious Freedom Summit.
Tooley: Hello this is Mark Tooley, editor of Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy, with the latest episode of Marksism, with fellow editors and fellow Mark(c)s, Marc LiVecche and Mark Melton. We’re reviewing three pieces from Providence this week, starting with an article from Union Seminary president Henry P. Van Dusen, a colleague of Reinhold Niebuhr, admitting, if you want to put it that way, that the Soviet Union is not going to be a post-war ally after all. Perhaps some fellow Christian realists had been unrealistic, ironically, on that point. We’ll cover an interview that Mark Melton did with our contributor Eric Patterson on C.S. Lewis and patriotism. Then, finally, a piece by our contributor Steven Howard on the upcoming week’s International Religious Freedom Summit here in Washington, DC, of which we are a participant. So, starting out with Van Dusen’s piece, apparently Niebuhr’s magazine Christianity & Crisis immediately after World War II was at times somewhat hesitant to admit that the Soviet Union was not going to continue as an ally and in fact was going to become our major nemesis for the next 40 years. Of course, the temptation for a certain brand of Christian Realism is to focus on one’s own sins and failings and to be reluctant to claim any kind of moral superiority for yourself over adversaries. And I think Niebuhr himself did that to some extent after World War II, but his colleague Van Dusen writes a very strong piece in Niebuhr’s magazine. Am I right, Mark Melton, this is 1946?
Melton: Right, yeah. This is 1946. July 1946 actually.
Tooley: And Van Dusen’s conclusion I think is stirring, so let me read it briefly verbatim. “Those who lived through the agony between Marco Polo Bridge and Pearl Harbor, not in the specious detachment of isolationist illusions but with some comprehension of humanity’s crisis, will not underestimate the gravity of the new crisis. Historic analogies are never precise, but the parallelism of underlying factors is too close to be denied. Appeasement has been tried and found wanting. The great question is whether firmness, if clearly adopted and disciplined by justice, can save mankind from a third holocaust,” which means a third world war. So, Marc LiVecche, Reinhold Niebuhr was out front in warning against appeasement of the Axis Powers in the late 1930s but was slower when it came to confronting the Soviet Union after World War II, but eventually he did pivot. Your thoughts?
LiVecche: Yeah, in retrospect it’s really bizarre, right. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that, but this illustrates some of the uphill push I think that our endeavor to reconstitute Christian Realism is up against. There was always in the beginning, or at least not at the beginning, the beginning goes all the way back to the headwaters of the church and Ambrose and Augustine, but moving it well forward to Niebuhr, there was always a temptation swirling in the mix toward a kind of infatuation with a sort of socialism lite. And I think that was to some degree, blinding might be the wrong word because they probably write it of course fairly quickly, but there was the temptation that some of the promises of socialism were found appealing. And yeah, the realist should see things as they really are. They should see the writing on the wall. And I’m heartened by 1946 they had. But I think that is a warning to any Christian realist or anybody who wants to bring morality to bear on international affairs, that there is always going to be this utopian impulse. I have it; others have it. I think it’s the idealist that potentially could be at times the most dangerous, because we all recognize as Christians that justice will come at the end of time, but there is always that temptation to try to, as Voegelin said, “collapse the eschaton” and bring it to bear on the now. It’s probably never going to work; it’s always a temptation. And I’m happy they overcame that temptation.
Tooley: What do you say to the inclination of Christian realism focusing rightly on one’s own sins, but that can be paralyzing. Obviously, the US was a sinful nation in 1946, but infinitely superior to what the Soviet Union had to offer. So, how does one approach those moral distinctions as a Christian realist?
LiVecche: Yeah, it’s a great question. I think we’ve done some work in the recent past where we make distinctions between say allies and partnerships. Allies are those that really do share our deep aspirations and our principles, our norms and values. Partners are those with whom we share maybe more interest-level commonalities. And that’s to say that you sometimes have to work with what you’ve got. And partners, Saudi Arabia, for instance, as we’ll probably talk about in the religious liberty piece, Saudi Arabia is not an ideal partner but we have a lot of shared interests. And you work with what you’ve got, and I think there’s an aspect of Christian Realism that says look, the human soul isn’t perfect, none of us are perfect, therefore no nation is going to be perfect. And we’ve got to work with what we’ve got. America, on balance, has never been the problem in the world. America, on balance, has always been a force for good in the world. And I think that’s a realist reading of the evidence that’s available. You look at our aspirations, you look at our best intentions, you look at the directions we tend to pivot, and you thank God that we are a people that, generally speaking, has sought to do good in the world by good means. And you accept that and you move forward. Then because you love yourself, you also stay cognizant of the times that you fall short. And as a nation, we should stay cognizant of those times and we should address them. We should repent of them when we recognize that we’ve sinned as a nation. And then you continue plugging away at your better angels. That’s just realistic.
Tooley: Speaking of America and patriotism, Mark Melton, you talked to Eric Patterson about C.S. Lewis’s affirmation of patriotism as a Christian virtue. Tell us a little bit more about your talk with Eric.
Melton: Yeah, one thing I would say about that last topic is that I think it’s important to remember that at the time in America, many Americans were optimistic about relations with the Soviet Union because for years during World War II while they were our ally there was this propaganda of like “good ole uncle Joe” of Joseph Stalin. So, we were trying to be like things aren’t that bad in the Soviet Union and then kind of having to realize it really is that bad. And I think today we also have better information about what’s going on in China and such, so I don’t know if that same thing would happen, but I think it’s more. Remember that with the Christianity & Crisis writers like Niebuhr, they weren’t alone in criticizing the likes of like Winston Churchill, who was predicting that there was going to be conflict. And I think if I’m not mistaken, I believe they’re still left-of-center like even in 1946 after they recognize what’s going on, or they’re recognizing things are problematic, especially with John Foster Dulles, his writings still seem more left-of-center in that they still criticize certain right-wing people who are very anti-communist and anti-Russia or anti Soviet Union. But to the question at hand with this talk, so yeah, Eric Patterson and I talked about C.S. Lewis and his description of a good love of home as a basis of Christian patriotism. And this comes out of the Four Loves where he describes four different faces of patriotism, some good and some bad. And the thing the two of us talked the most about was the love of home, which basically for C.S. Lewis was the beer and the tea, police force, like all the things that remind him of England, not Britain, England. But yeah, these things that are familiar. That if you lose them, then it’s like losing your house. If you lost your house, you would lose so many things that you love. You wouldn’t be able to count them the same way. If you lost your country, you would lose so many things, you couldn’t remember, you wouldn’t be able to count all the things you would miss. And so, therefore, you want to defend it. But he says this is the least offensive type of patriotism; that Jesus holds this. When he talks about how he weeps over Jerusalem, he laments over it. He loves his people. And so, you have this patriotism in Jesus as well. And I first ran across this description by reading Tim Keller, and he writes about it in The Prodigal Profit. And in that book Tim Keller says that the problem with patriotism or the love of home is when it becomes a God. And for Jonah, it became so. His orders weren’t rightly loved. He loved his people over his God. And so, with the other loves, C.S. Lewis kind of, the second one that’s kind of problematic is the history of loving one’s country. Because of its history, he says, this is very problematic because it can lead to basically believing a debunkable history. If you understand history, you have to understand all of its complexities. And I kind of talked about understanding both human depravity and understanding common grace and that for people who have kind of a reformed tradition, if you believe that humans are not capable of doing good things, then you shouldn’t be surprised that there are people in history doing bad things, even our heroes. And even in the Bible when you look at the likes of King David and the Apostle Paul, they, when you look at their histories, are not great people even though they’re treated as heroes. God is still able to use them. And so, when you look at history, I think you have to understand that God works not because of what people do, but despite them. He’s able to turn things that are sinful and turn them towards a good, and I think that’s the way you have to read history. But what C.S. Lewis talks about specifically is if your history is debunkable then it can actually lead to disillusionment, which can lead to the opposite of patriotism. And so, he really cautions against loving one’s history. And then the others are basically the idea of like I love my home so much I’m going to oppress other people or force other people to live like me, to basically make my nation universal, so to speak. But really kind of that domineering of other places. And those are the other faces of patriotism that C.S. Lewis writes about. So, those are kind of the topics that Eric Patterson and I covered.
Tooley: And finally, Steven Howard’s piece commending the Summit of International Religious Freedom in Washington, DC this upcoming week and urging the Biden Administration to cooperate with the summit, but more importantly to advance the goals of the summit. For example, the post of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom is yet to be filled by the administration, although Steven Howard does commend the administration for some other pronouncements on international religious freedom. Marc LiVecche, any analysis from you on the topic of international religious freedom, and how does it play into Christian realism?
LiVecche: Yeah, I have nothing really particularly to say about the article. It was straight forward, to be commended. Where the topic of religious liberty plays into Christian Realism, I think one of the touch points, this touches a little bit on one of C.S. Lewis’s comments that Melton touched on regarding the patriotism of the home, and he has this kind of throwaway line where he says yeah, nobody’s really going to disagree with this, right. There’s nothing offensive here. And that may have been true in Lewis’s day, but in contemporary times, I think we can manage to find offense in just about anything. And I think one of the sources of offense there is it seems very self-interested, right. My home, my stuff, my beer, and all the symbols that go with that, the tavern and all that, the camaraderie, but it still seems very self-interested. So, I think one of the critiques that I’ve seen as we talk about religious liberty is very often it’s seen as oh, it’s Christians helping Christians, or the religious, the theists helping theists. And for some, that kind of thing smacks of self-interest, which I found on the one hand, very bizarre. But I think it’s real, the push against that. So, religious liberty ought to be sort of a human unifying thing, every culture, every nation, every corner of the globe has religious affinities. And from the canonical of Zechariah forward, we are free, because we were made to worship. The freedom of worship is the first freedom, and that should be a coalescing force that brings people together to be an anecdote to tribalism, because it’s what holds us together. Human beings will worship. And I think all human beings everywhere, this is self-evident, simply desire the freedom to be able to worship as they choose. Even the atheist now has the desire to be able to worship as they choose. So, it should be a unifying thing. I think the article calls for that kind of unity, and one would expect the Biden Administration to agree with it.
Tooley: Well, Mark Melton and I will be representing Providence at the International Religious Freedom Summit here in DC next week, so hopefully we’ll have much to report when we next converse. Until then, thank you for this episode of Marksism. Bye-bye.